'Cathedral of Middlesex' saved from ruin

English Heritage is stepping in to prevent the dereliction of the medieval Harmondsworth Great Barn lauded by Sir John Betjeman

The so-called "cathedral of Middlesex", a huge wooden barn that is one of Britain's most precious intact medieval buildings, is to be saved by English Heritage, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

In an extremely rare move, the heritage body has begun legal action that paves the way for the eventual compulsory purchase of the building, Harmondsworth Great Barn, on the fringe of Heathrow Airport.

If the purchase is approved by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Grade I-listed building will be brought into public ownership and saved from neglect at the hands of its owners, a Gibraltar-registered company.

Compulsory purchase would lay a ghost that has haunted English Heritage bosses for years. In 2006 the building's then owners went into receivership, and the quango was offered the building for £1.

It declined, and the Gibraltar company, hoping to cash in on the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport, snapped it up for the £1. Since then, says English Heritage, the owner has failed to respond to letters and emails sent by it concerning the condition of the barn.

One of Britain's unsung architectural treasures, Harmondsworth Great Barn dates back to the early decades of the 15th century, the era of the Battle of Agincourt. The barn is exceptional for its size and the quality of craftsmanship. It is 192ft long, with 12 huge oak bays, and was built at the height of the great wave of cathedral expansion, using similar techniques, and probably some of the same craftsmen.

Sir John Betjeman dubbed the barn "the cathedral of Middlesex". Virtually all the barn's wood, from giant oak supporting beams to its planked walls, are original, as is its stone and brick base. However, holes have recently appeared across the vast roof; parts of the interior are water soaked, and the brick and stonework is beginning to crumble. No fire warning or firefighting system is in place.

The plight of the barn was exposed this year by the campaign magazine Cornerstone, published by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which is highlighting the decay and vulnerability of much of Britain's historic rural architecture.

"Harmondsworth Barn is an astonishing survival," said Paddy Pugh, English Heritage director for the London region. "It is one of the largest and most intact ancient barns in the country."

In 2004, English Heritage was granted a compulsory purchase order to save Apethorpe Hall – an important, but rotting, 16th-century mansion in Northamptonshire.

As revealed by The IoS earlier his year, English Heritage has spent £7.5m on restoring the house but was seeking to sell it for about half its original £4.5m asking price.

English Heritage took the first step towards compulsory purchase of Harmondsworth Great Barn this month by issuing an urgent works notice on the owners. Emergency repairs are to start this week, under English Heritage's supervision, lawfully without the owner's consent.

Further non-compliance to repair orders will lead to compulsory purchase, stresses English Heritage. "We asked them [the owners] if they would just hand the barn over," says Paddy Pugh. "They paid £1 for it; we said we will pay £1."

There has been no response. "English Heritage will not stand by in this. When the present owners took on the building it was in reasonable condition. A repairs notice, which we will issue very soon, is the next step on the road to acquisition by English Heritage."

English Heritage estimates that full restoration of the barn would cost £400,000.

Ancient barns are particularly vulnerable to fire. In 2004 and 2005 a large portion of Grade I-listed Frindsbury Barn, at Rochester, Kent – built in 1403 – was destroyed in a series of unexplained fires.

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor